Brits Abroad

As the summer draws to an end and many of us have been and returned from escapades to the continent, it seems a good time to reflect on how us […]

As the summer draws to an end and many of us have been and returned from escapades to the continent, it seems a good time to reflect on how us British tourists are perceived by our European counterparts.

I’m not talking so much of the resort-bound British holidaymakers. We all already know that a typical Brit at an all-inclusive resort in Benidorm will drink a lot, make a load of noise and avoid contact with the locals on all levels. That’s common knowledge. It’s what we’re signing up to do when we book up those confined holiday spots.

No, I’m thinking of the more cultural adventures that (particularly young) British people embark on, and the ways that the natives perceive us Brits with backpacks who gallivant around their country, trying to immerse ourselves in the culture.

Following a two-week stint of inter-railing with friends this summer, I’ve become all too aware of some of the stupid things that young British backpackers do in Europe. Yes, we made a few blunders.

Allow me to offer a few typical examples of errors made by young Brits when embarking on a European adventure, along with a few anecdotes from Soton students with first-hand experience…

Ignoring signs

It may sound ridiculous, but it is in fact very easy to completely bypass a sign when it’s in a foreign language that you don’t understand.

In Munich we visited the English Gardens, where there is a beautiful man-made river that flows downstream. It was a scorcher of a day, so when we saw other members of the public leaping into the river, we immediately decided to do the same. It was all great fun, until we decided to take ourselves down a different route of the river and towards a mini waterfall. We found ourselves tumbling down it, causing some nasty injuries. It wasn’t until afterwards that we noticed the sign nearby that quite clearly signalled danger, complete with a skull symbol. Sophia King, Third-Year English

Crossing roads illegally 

In England, if there are no cars on the road people will rarely bother waiting for the green man before crossing. Not the case in many European countries. In fact, on the German roads crossing on a red light can actually lead to arrest.

In Munich, my boyfriend and I were baffled when people stood waiting on the edge of the pavement, despite a completely clear road. Thinking nothing of it, we crossed anyway and left the locals patiently waiting on the pavement. It wasn’t until we were in a different country altogether that someone actually told us about the law. Whoops. Emma Miles, Third-Year English and Philosophy

Messing up on transport

Being in the habit of using good old Oyster cards, it can be tough for a hopeless Brit trying to master the transport system in another country.

In Paris, we bought some young persons unlimited metro tickets from a machine, only to then realize that they only worked weekends. It was a Monday. The ticket man wouldn’t swap them (the French are a stern lot), and so, adamant not to shed out another €7 each on the correct ones, we were forced to take on the challenge of ‘jumping’ the barriers before and after every journey.  Although we did manage to devise a range of techniques to do this (slipping behind a ticket-bearer in the turnstile, holding the automatic exit doors open when someone walks through), it was pretty foolish. Me, Third-Year English and French

Ordering the wrong dish

It’s a classic British error. We think we’re clued up on a few foreign words, but in fact most of us are totally ignorant to other languages.

On our first evening in Munich, we rocked up at a small German restaurant and all ordered Schnitzel, for some reason convinced that it meant sausage. To our surprise, out came large, oddly shaped cutlets of meat. Not quite the German sausages we were anticipating. Sophie Dawson, Third-Year English


Yes, it may sound ridiculous, but queuing properly in Europe just makes you look like a nitwit.

After spending some time at the summit of the Eiffel Tower admiring the beautiful views, we decided that it was time to head back down. So we did the obvious thing and joined the back of the queue for the lift. After about ten minutes, we realised that the majority of people who had been behind us in the queue were now way ahead. No-one else, except perhaps a few other Brits, were doing the ‘right thing’ and waiting patiently (but getting nowhere!) Becky Dymond, Third-Year History and Politics

Getting ‘wasted’

There’s no denying it. Britain has by far the booziest culture in Europe. That’s not to say that the likes of Germans and Austrians don’t drink much- no in fact it was in Munich that I came across the largest beer glasses I’d ever seen. But it seems that drinking is simply not seen as an activity of ‘getting drunk’ in the way that it is here.

In Vienna, we discovered an epic little nightclub called Travel Shack. As a bar designed for travellers and backpackers, but also attracting locals, the venue was full of young people from all over the world enjoying a night out. Yet, by the end of the night it was only us, the English girls, who were going wild doing the limbo and spinning around a pole like there was no tomorrow while the others remained on the sidelines. My recollection of the night is hazy, but I know for sure that no Austrian, German or even Spaniard in that bar got quite as merry as we did. Sophia King, Third-Year English

So there we have it. Even when undertaking a cultural activity like backpacking, trying hard not  to fit that ‘Brit abroad’ image, we British are often foolish, a little ignorant and rather boozier than the rest.

But now I ask, is it actually that bad? Do the European natives really hate us for it? Or is there something to love in the British way of being a little unwise at times, of speaking loudly and of getting rat-arsed?

In fact, when we got the definition of ‘Schnitzel’ wrong, the waiter was greatly amused, the waterfall incident induced a lot of laughter from locals, and the Austrians loved our crazy drinking habits. When craftily jumping the barriers, Parisians laughingly let us get away with it, and the natives in Munich seemed more tickled than angered by our foolish approach to road crossing.

So, while we may always to stand out to our European counterparts as ‘Brits abroad’ when on the continent, maybe there’s something to love in our foolhardy ways.